Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Glyphs Detail Life of Mayan Priest

Mayan priest from National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

An ancient Mayan hieroglyphic script is providing details on the life of a high priest, including his blood sacrifices and acts of penance. The text consists of 260 glyphs carved into a series of seashell earrings and manta ray stingers found inside a burial urn that contained the remains of the important Maya priest.

The urn was uncovered during excavations 11 years ago in Comalcalco, in southeastern Tabasco state.

The text covers 14 years in the life of a Maya priest who lived in the eighth century A.D. It includes references to blood sacrifices and acts of penance preceding the spring solstice. Maya priests used manta ray stingers to pierce their earlobes, tongue, forehead, penis and other parts of the anatomy, in painful, bloodletting sacrifices to induce a hallucinogenic state in which they believed they could talk to their gods, INAH said.

One of the glyphs refers to the equivalent modern date of January 31, 771.

Click here for the AFP article.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jesus-Era Dwelling Unearthed in Nazareth

A priest examines the excavation of the 2,000-year-old dwelling.

Archaeologists yesterday unveiled the first dwelling in Nazareth dating to the era of Jesus. At the time Jesus is believed to have lived, Nazareth was a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families. Today the ornate Basilica of the Annunciation marks the site, and Nazareth is the largest Arab city in northern Israel, with about 65,000 residents.

Two thousand years ago there were no Christians or Muslims ~ the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem ~ and tiny Nazareth stood near a battleground between Roman rulers and Jewish guerrillas. The Jews of Nazareth duggrottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

According to the Associated Press:

Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a "simple Jewish family," Alexandre added, as workers carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls.

"This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with," Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends. "It's a logical suggestion."

Archaeologist Stephen Pfann, president of the University of The Holy Land, noted: "It's the only witness that we have from that area that shows us what the walls and floors were like inside Nazareth in the first century."

Alexandre said workers uncovered the first signs of the dwelling last summer, but it became clear only this month that it was a structure from the days of Jesus.

Alexandre's team found remains of a wall, a hideout, a courtyard and a water system that appeared to collect water from the roof and supply it to the home. The discovery was made when builders dug up the courtyard of a former convent to make room for a new Christian center, just yards from the Basilica.

It is not clear how big the dwelling is. Alexandre's team has uncovered about 900 square feet of the house, but it may have been for an extended family and could be much larger, she said.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice

Sunrise at Stonehenge on the Winter Solstice, 2003.

[Today is the Winter Solstice, one of the most venerated days throughout recorded history. Here, I’ve selected several paragraphs of interest from the relatively lengthy Winter Solstice write-up on Wikipedia.]

The Winter Solstice occurs when the earth's axial tilt is farthest from the sun at its maximum of 23° 26'. For most people in the high latitudes this is commonly known as the shortest day and the sun's daily maximum position in the sky is the lowest. The seasonal significance of the Winter Solstice is in the reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.

. . . The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen.

. . . The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common in winter between January and April, also known as the famine months. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time.

. . . Since 45 BCE, when the 25th of December was established in the Julian calendar as the winter solstice of Europe, the difference between the calendar year (365.2500 days) and the tropical year (365.2422 days) moved the day associated with the actual astronomical solstice forward approximately three days every four centuries until 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar, bringing the northern winter solstice to around December 21. Yearly, in the Gregorian calendar, the solstice still fluctuates slightly but in the long term, only about one day every 3000 years.

. . . Since the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun's ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstitially based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay's redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. In Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses met on the winter and summer solstice, and Hades was permitted on Mount Olympus. Also reversal is another usual theme as in Saturnalia's slave and master reversals.

Click here for the Wikipedia entry.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Signs Found of Early Amazonian Civilization

Geoglyphs such as this on the Brazilian border are about 2000 years old.

Traces of a previously unknown ancient civilization are emerging from beneath the felled trees straddling Brazil's border with Bolivia.

The traditional view is that before the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese in the 15th century, there were no complex societies in the Amazon basin. Now deforestation, air travel and satellite imagery are indicating otherwise.

"It's never-ending," says Denise Schaan of the Federal University of Pará in Belém, Brazil. "Every week we find new structures."

Some of them are square or rectangular, while others form concentric circles or complex geometric figures such as hexagons and octagons connected by avenues or roads. The researchers describe them all as geoglyphs.

According to New Scientist:

Their discovery, in an area of northern Bolivia and western Brazil, follows other recent reports of vast sprawls of interconnected villages known as "garden cities" in north central Brazil, dating from around AD 1400. But the structures unearthed at the garden city sites are not as consistently similar or geometric as the geoglyphs, Schaan says.

"I firmly believe that the garden cities of Xingu and the geoglyphs were not directly related," says Martti Pärssinen of the Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes in Madrid, Spain, who works with Schaan. "Nevertheless, both discoveries demonstrate that [upland] areas of western Amazonia were heavily populated much before the European incursion."

The geoglyphs are formed by ditches up to 11 metres wide and 1 to 2 metres deep. They range from 90 to 300 metres in diameter and are thought to date from around 2000 years ago up to the 13th century.

Click here for the New Scientist article.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advanced Balkan Society Predated Greece, Rome

Front and back of fired-clay female figurine, circa 4050 BC.

Archaeologists and historians are assembling the history of a society that existed in the Balkan foothills around 5000 BC ~ long before the rise of Greece and Rome ~ and produced surprisingly advanced art, technology, and long-distance commerce. No one knows what these people called themselves, but historians are now labeling them simply “Old Europe.”

According to the New York Times:

For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 B.C., they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.

Until recently, the most recognizable artifacts from Old Europe were terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally regarded as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.

Although excavations over the last century uncovered traces of ancient settlements and the goddess figurines, it was not until local archaeologists in 1972 discovered a large fifth-millennium B.C. cemetery at Varna, Bulgaria, that they began to suspect these were not poor people living in unstructured egalitarian societies. Even then, confined in cold war isolation behind the Iron Curtain, Bulgarians and Romanians were unable to spread their knowledge to the West.

The story now emerging is of pioneer farmers after about 6200 B.C. moving north into Old Europe from Greece and Macedonia, bringing wheat and barley seeds and domesticated cattle and sheep. They established colonies along the Black Sea and in the river plains and hills, and these evolved into related but somewhat distinct cultures, archaeologists have learned. The settlements maintained close contact through networks of trade in copper and gold and also shared patterns of ceramics.

New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status.

Click here for the New York Times article.

Fired clay architectural model from Old Europe, circa 4050 BC.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Like Greece, Temples in Sicily Face the Sunrise

Ruins of Greek temple at Selinunte on Sicily.

Nearly all temples constructed on the island of Sicily during its Greek period 2,500 years ago are oriented toward the eastern horizon, according to a new study by Alun Salt, an archaeoastronomer with the University of Leicester in England.

Though many temples on mainland Greece also line up with the sunrise, it is less frequent on the mainland than on outlying colonies, implying an effort by outlying colonies to strengthen their ties to the home territory, Salt tells LiveScience.

"If you were a Greek living in the Greek homeland, you knew you were Greek. The Greeks in Sicily were Greeks living at the edge of their world. They may have felt they had something to prove," says Salt, who noted that most temples in Sicily were also built on a larger scale than those in Greece proper.

According to LiveScience:

Temples were an important part of life in ancient Greece. Offerings to various gods were commonplace, as were rituals associated with the ancient Olympic Games. Temple ruins now dot the landscape of mainland Greece, with orientation favoring the sunrise in many, but not all.

Of the 41 temples in Sicily that date from the Greek period, however, only one of the doors doesn't face east, Salt found.

The phenomenon of east-facing temples may have been stronger in Sicily simply because doing things the "right" way helped forge a stronger bond with the mainland.

Sicily became a Greek state in the 8th century B.C., when Greeks first settled on the Mediterranean island, now a province of Italy.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

More Evidence Points to Neolithic Cannibalism

Some of the 7,000-year-old skeletal remains unearthed at Herxheim.

Archaeologists say evidence points to Neolithic cannibalism in a settlement in southern Germany some 7,000 years ago. Over a period of decades, skeletal remains indicate hundreds of people were butchered and eaten before parts of their bodies were thrown into oval pits.

Cannibalism at what is now the village of Herxheim may have occurred during ceremonies in which people from near and far brought slaves, war prisoners or other dependents for ritual sacrifice, according to Science News.

Until now, the only convincing evidence of Neolithic cannibalism came from 6,000-year-old bones in a French cave. A 1986 report concluded that the remains of various animals and at least six people were butchered and discarded there.

Herxheim offers rare evidence of cannibalism during Europe’s early Neolithic period, when farming first spread, the researchers report in the December Antiquity. Artifacts found at Herxheim come from the Linear Pottery Culture, which flourished in western and central Europe from about 7,500 to 7,000 years ago.

Click here for the Science News article.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Does Shroud Contain Jesus' Death Certificate?

Medieval manuscript page depicting Jesus's burial with shroud.

The mysterious Shroud of Turin is back in the news this week, this time with an argument for its authenticity as the death shroud that covered Jesus from the period following his crucifixion until his resurrection.

In October, scientists pronounced the shroud as a medieval forgery after they duplicated an imprint onto linen using materials existing in the 14th Century. A 1988 carbon dating of a fragment of the cloth has dated it to the Middle Ages, when the initial forgery is claimed to have occurred.

Now, however, a Vatican scholar says she has deciphered Jesus’s “death certificate” from writing obscured on the shroud, by implication placing its origin back to the time of the resurrection.

"I think I have managed to read the burial certificate of Jesus the Nazarene, or Jesus of Nazareth," says Dr. Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican secret archives. She said she reconstructed it from fragments of Greek, Hebrew and Latin writing imprinted on the cloth together with the image of the crucified man.

The letters, barely visible to the naked eye, were first spotted during an examination of the shroud in 1978, and others have since come to light.

According to the London Times:

Some scholars have suggested that the writing is from a reliquary attached to the cloth in medieval times. But Dr Frale said that the text could not have been written by a medieval Christian because it did not refer to Jesus as Christ but as "the Nazarene." This would have been "heretical" in the Middle Ages since it defined Jesus as "only a man" rather than the Son of God.

Like the image of the man himself the letters are in reverse and only make sense in negative photographs. Dr Frale told La Repubblica that under Jewish burial practices current at the time of Christ in a Roman colony such as Palestine, a body buried after a death sentence could only be returned to the family after a year in a common grave.

A death certificate was therefore glued to the burial shroud to identify it for later retrieval, and was usually stuck to the cloth around the face. This had apparently been done in the case of Jesus even though he was buried not in a common grave but in the tomb offered by Joseph of Arimathea.

Frale ~ best known for her studies of the Knights Templar ~ said she had deciphered "the death sentence on a man called Jesus the Nazarene. If that man was also Christ the Son of God it is beyond my job to establish. I did not set out to demonstrate the truth of faith.”

Click here for the London Times article.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greeks ~ Not Romans ~ Founded French Wine

New research indicates ancient Greeks brought wine to southern France about 600 BC, dispelling the theory that the Romans were responsible for bringing viticulture to the region that became the world’s largest wine industry.

The study ~ headed by Prof. Paul Cartledge of Cambridge Univeristy ~ found that the Greeks founded Massalia, now known as Marseilles, which they then turned into a bustling trading center. Within a matter of generations the nearby Rhône became a major thoroughfare for vessels carrying terracotta amphorae containing a new exotic Greek drink made from fermented grape juice.

He said there were two main points that proved it was the Greeks who introduced wine to the region.

"First, the Greeks had to marry and mix with the local Ligurians to ensure that Massalia survived, suggesting that they also swapped goods and ideas.

"Second, they left behind copious amounts of archaeological evidence of their wine trade (unlike the Etruscans and long before the Romans), much of which has been found on Celtic sites."

Cartledge argues the new drink rapidly became a hit among the tribes of Western Europe, which then contributed to the French’s modern love of wine.

Click here for the London Telegraph article.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Rare Bust of Julius Caesar Now on Display

A rare bust of Julius Caesar ~ recovered in 2007 after 20 years of exploration of the Rhone riverbed in France ~ is now on public display in Arles.

According to AFP:

The find, dated 46 BC, is all the more remarkable for likely being made during the emperor's lifetime and provides the centrepiece for the exhibition organised by Luc Long, head of the French state department for archaeological, subaquatic and deepsea research.

The unifying theme in "Caesar, the Rhone for Memory,” running to September 2010, is "to maintain the feeling of going on a journey with the archaeologists, following every stage of their work from the site of the digs right up to the restoration and exhibition of the artifacts", says its designe
r Pierre Berthier.

The collection shows ancient Arles was not only a port of passage, but decorated and monumental, says Long, "an ostentatious facade aiming to display Rome's wealth and power.”

Click here for the AFP article.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Murals Providing New Views into Mayan Life

One of the murals decorating the Maya pyramid structure.

Recently excavated Mayan murals are providing a window into the lives of ancient Mayan culture.

Uncovered during excavation of a Mayan pyramid at Calakmul, Mexico, discovery of the murals "was a total shock," Simon Martin of the University of Pennsylvania Museum told LiveScience. The Maya have been studied for more than a century, but "this is the first time that we've seen anything like this," Martin said.

According to LiveScience:

"We almost never get a view of what other layers of society are doing or what they look like, so this is one of the things that makes [the murals] so special," Martin told LiveScience.

The murals were found on the walls of one layer of the mound structure - Maya built over the top of older structures, creating buildings in layers like onions, Martin explained. While other layers were scraped up and destroyed in the effort to build over them, the layer with the murals appears to have been carefully preserved, with a layer of clay put over the murals, ostensibly to protect them.

This careful preservation "might suggest that it was something pretty special," Martin said.

The images on the mural show people engaged in mundane activities, such as preparing food. Hieroglyphic captions accompany each image, labeling each individual. In each case the term "aj," meaning "person," is used and followed by the word for a foodstuff or material.

Hieroglyphs for some words ~ such as "tobacco" and "maize-gruel" ~ were already known. Other hieroglyphs were new to researchers, especially the words for maize itself and salt, known staples of the Mayan diet.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Remains of Lost Army Believed to be Found

Bas-relief of a Persian soldier shows earring like one found in the Sahara.

One of archaeology’s major mysteries may have been solved with the recent discovery of the remains of a Persian army that disappeared 2,500 years ago in the sands of the Egyptian desert.

After 13 years of searching, Italian researchers have located bronze weapons, a silver bracelet, an earring and hundreds of human bones in a desolate region of the Sahara desert. They believe the remains are of the lost army of Persian King Cambyses II. The 50,000 warriors were said to be buried by a cataclysmic sandstorm in 525 B.C.

According to Discovery News:

According to Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, sent 50,000 soldiers from Thebes to attack the Oasis of Siwa and destroy the oracle at the Temple of Amun after the priests there refused to legitimize his claim to Egypt.

After walking for seven days in the desert, the army got to an "oasis," which historians believe was El-Kharga. After they left, they were never seen again.

"A wind arose from the south, strong and deadly, bringing with it vast columns of whirling sand, which entirely covered up the troops and caused them wholly to disappear," wrote Herodotus.

The tale of Cambyses' lost army, however, faded into antiquity. As no trace of the hapless warriors was ever found, scholars began to dismiss the story as a fanciful tale.

Now, two top Italian archaeologists claim to have found striking evidence that the Persian army was indeed swallowed in a sandstorm. Twin brothers Angelo and Alfredo Castiglioni are already famous for their discovery 20 years ago of the ancient Egyptian "city of gold" Berenike Panchrysos.

A mass grave in the sand with bones believed to belong to soldiers of the lost army.

Click here for the Discovery News article.
Click here for a 3-minute video related to the discovery.
Click here for another article, this one from the London Daily Mail.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Some Scientists Rejecting Comet-Collision Theory

A prolonged frigid period led to extinction of mastodons and many other creatures, as well as the human Clovis culture.

While scientists are not disputing the existence of a frigid period known as the Younger Dryas about 12,900 years ago, an increasing number are now rejecting the theory that it was caused by Earth’s collision with a comet.

The frigid period ~ whatever its cause ~ is linked to extinction of sabertooths, mastodons, and other giant animals, and may have caused the decline of the Clovis culture.

The comet-collision theory was developed in 2007 and based on a combination of archaeological artifacts and extraterrestrial magnetic grains in soil samples found in a thin layer of sediment throughout North America. However new research, presented at a meeting of the Geological Society of America this week in Portland, Oregon, has taken aim at all of these findings.

Nicholas Pinter, a geologist at Southern Illinois University, argued that black mats described as charcoal in the 2007 research weren't actually charcoal, but were formed from ancient, dark soil formed in a long-ago wetland. Likewise, the small amounts of carbon "are not uniquely associated with high-intensity fire," he said.

According to National Geographic:

Vance Holliday, an archaeologist at the University of Arizona, added that there is no sign that the demise of the Clovis culture was caused by a comet crash.

Around the time of the cold snap, the style of spearpoints changed—which some scientists argued was evidence that the Clovis peoples had declined due to the comet impact. But Holliday said it reflects a normal evolution in preference. He compared spearpoint designs to the appearance—and disappearance—of tail fins on classic automobiles.

"We really don't know what style means in the archaeological record," Holliday said. "Tastes come and go. We don't know why." But "an extraterrestrial impact is an unnecessary solution for an archaeological problem that doesn't exist."

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Ruined Ecosystem May Destroyed the Nazca

A mountainside drawing by the Nazca people on now-barren land.

Archaeologists are concluding that the Nazca ~ who once flourished in southern Peru, beginning around 200 BC ~ severely damaged their surrounding ecosystem and provoked the collapse of their own civilization around 500 AD.

Known today for creating vast patterns in the desert that can only be seen from the air, the Nazca civilization disappeared partly because it damaged the fragile ecosystem that held it in place, a study found. Author Oliver Whaley, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: ''The mistakes of prehistory offer us important lessons for our management of fragile, arid areas in the present.''

Recently published in the journal Latin American Antiquity, a new study found that the Nazca cleared forests to make way for their agriculture over the course of many generations.

According to the London Telegraph:

In doing so, the huarango tree, which once covered what is now a desert area, was gradually replaced by crops such as cotton and maize.

But the tree was crucial to the desert's fragile ecosystem as it enhanced soil fertility and moisture and helped to hold the Nasca's narrow, vulnerable irrigation channels in place, the researchers said.

The Nazca eventually cut down so many trees that they reached a tipping point at which the arid ecosystem was irreversibly damaged.

An El Nino-style flood then occurred, but its impact would have been far less devastating had the forests which protected the delicate desert ecology still been there, they said.

''In time, gradual woodland clearance crossed an ecological threshold - sharply defined in such desert environments - exposing the landscape to the region's extraordinary desert winds and the effects of El Nino floods,” according to Dr David Beresford-Jones of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University

Click here for the Telegraph article.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Alexandria May Predate Alexander the Great

Maarten van Heemskerck's fanciful 16th century engraving of ancient Alexandria.

History records that the important Egyptian port city of Alexandria was first settled by Alexander the Great in 331 BC. But now, examination of sediment layers indicate the city may have existed hundreds of years earlier.

Whether the early settlement was Greek, Egyptian or affiliated with some other culture isn't known. Nor can scientists say exactly how big the settlement might have been. But the possibility of an earlier existence is supported in Homer’s "The Odyssey," which significantly predates Alexander the Great. In Book 4, Homer mentions a one-day sail from the coast near the Nile to the nearby island of Pharos, suggesting that a port settlement was already there.

According to LiveScience:

... In the past few years, scientists have found fragments of ceramics and traces of lead in sediments in the area that predate Alexander's arrival by several hundred years, suggesting there was already a settlement in the area (though one far smaller than what Alexandria became).

Christopher Bernhardt of the U.S. Geological Survey and his colleagues took sediment cores (long cylindrical pieces of sediment drilled from the ground) that featured layers going as far back as nearly 8,000 years ago as part of a larger climate study of the area.

… At a mark of 3,000 years ago, Bernhardt's team detected a shift in pollen grains from native grasses and other plants to those from cereal grains, grapes and weeds associated with agriculture. They also found a marked increase in charcoal particles, all of which suggests that a settlement pre-dated the great city of Alexandria.

"At this point I don't think you can tell much about the people themselves," Bernhardt says.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Lost City of Ubar Lies Beneath Arabian Sands

Artist's conception of the ancient fortress city of Ubar.

The ancient city of Ubar was important to the lucrative trade of frankincense from about 2800 BC till 300 AD when, according to legend, Allah rebuked its people for squandering their lives and then ~ like the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah ~ destroyed the city by sinking it beneath the sand.

In the 1990s, amateur archaeologists Nicholas Clapp and Ranulph Fiennes made world headlines by discovering the fabled city.

They were led to Ubar by the book Arabia Felix by desert adventurer Bertram Thomas, the first European that crossed the Rub Al Khali, the unimpregnable vast sand desert that covers most of the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula. During his travels Thomas had noticed that the tribes living in the region of the Dhofar mountains in South Oman considered themselves the descendants of the "People of 'Ad", who were associated in the Qur'an with Ubar. When making his famous crossing of 'The Sands' he came across ancients caravan tracks at approximately 18°45'N -52°30'E that were explained by his Arab guides as 'the road to Ubar'.

Clapp got fascinated by the Ubar story and started reading everything he could lay his hands on. Fiennes had been stationed in Oman in his military time and had roamed around in southern Oman extensively, with the lost city always in the back of his mind . Both homed in on southern Oman and decided to find Thomas' tracks, reasoning that all roads must lead somewhere. They got help from space technology, with NASA shuttle space images revealing pieces of the ancient tracks and converging to the small oasis settlement of Shisur, which is now identified as Ubar.

Excavations at Sishur revealed a sizeable walled fortress that had partly collapsed in a large sinkhole. It had clearly collapsed after the fortress was built, taking down almost the full interior space of the fortress and a sizeable part of the gate and adjacent walls.

Originally the fortress had eight or more towers, connected by a 2.5 to 3 metres high wall and almost one metre thickness, built of local limestone. The main internal building was in the northwestern corner of the fortress. The Qur'an tells of "a city with lofty buildings," which the excavations revealed. The towers guarded the most important source of water before the Rub Al Khali, now hidden in the collapsed sinkhole.

The reddish streaks in this NASA radar image from the space shuttle show ancient paths leading to and around the Ubar site, which had literally sunk into an underground water hole.

Click here for a web page dedicated to the discovery of Ubar.
Click here for the legend regarding the destruction of the city.
Click here for more information on the image from the space shuttle.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bulgarian Tsar's Quarries Are Discovered

Ruins indicating the Tsar's limestone quarries.

Archaeologists have unearthed the limestone quarries Bulgaria's Tsar Simeon I The Great (893-927 AD) employed in building his imperial palaces. The quarries ~ located close to the village of Srednya in Northeast Bulgaria ~ were found by accident by employees of the Shumensko Plato Natural Park, who were mapping the region.

According to Novinite.com:

They saw a small cave, and thought that was a small rock monastery of the type that have been found elsewhere in Northeast Bulgaria because there was rectangular spots in the walls of the cave that looked fit for placing icons.

“When I saw all that, I nearly passed out. I needed several minutes to realize what was in front of my eyes was an old quarry,” said Georgi Maystorski, Director of the Shumen Museum.

After their initiate explorations this week, the archaeologists are 100 percent sure that they have made an absolutely unique discovery, solving a mystery that scientists had been trying to resolve for about 100 years; i.e. where did the materials for the enormous and marvelous construction projects of Tsar Simeon I The Great came from.

In their words, the structure of the stones at the site of the quarry is exactly the same as in the ruins of the imperial palace and fortress walls of Veliki Preslav.

Tsar Simeon was the ruler of the First Bulgarian Empire in 893-927 AD, shortly after Bulgaria adopted Christianity in 864, and the Slavic script in 886. He is known for expanding Bulgaria from Constantinople and Athens to Central Europe, occupied by today's Hungary.

Click here for the Novinite.com article.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lost Cities of the World ~ Carthage

While the region still exists, not much is left of the ancient seaport which was destroyed not once but twice, first by the Romans during the Punic war in 146BC. But the city rose again to be a Mediterranean trading port before being sacked by the Arabs in 698 AD. The ruins, scattered across Byrsa Hill in Tunisia, can be visited, with part of an aqueduct still visible.

(From the Guardian.com)

Stash of Tablets Enables New Study of Aramaic

New technologies are helping scholars at the University of Chicago analyze nearly 700 ancient documents in Aramaic, one of the Middle East’s oldest continuously spoken and written languages. The Aramaic texts were incised in the surfaces of clay tablets with styluses or inked on the tablets with brushes or pens.

According to the University of Chicago:

Discovered in Iran, these tablets form one of the largest groups of ancient Aramaic records ever found. They are part of the Persepolis Fortification Archive, an immense group of administrative documents written and compiled about 500 B.C. at Persepolis, one of the capitals of the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

Archaeologists from the Oriental Institute discovered the archive in 1933, and the Iranian government has loaned it to the Oriental Institute since 1936 for preservation, study, analysis and publication.

The Persepolis texts have started to provide scholars with new knowledge about Imperial Aramaic, the dialect used for international communication and record-keeping in many parts of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian empires, including parts of the administration at the imperial court of Persepolis. These texts have even greater value because they are so closely connected with documents written in other ancient languages by the same administration at Persepolis.

“We don’t have many archives of this size. A lot of what’s in these texts is entirely fresh, but this also changes what we already knew,” said Annalisa Azzoni, an assistant professor at the Divinity School of Vanderbilt University. “There are words I know were used in later dialects, for example, but I didn’t know they were used at this time or this place, Persia in 500 B.C. For an Aramaicist, this is quite an important discovery.”

Click here for the University of Chicago press release.
Photo shows one of the Persepolis tablets.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oldest Submerged City Found to be Even Older

Ruins of Pavlopetri on the seabed.

The world’s oldest submerged town ~ Pavlopetri, off the southern Laconia coast of Greece ~ contains ceramics dating back to the Final Neolithic period. Archaeologists now believe the town was occupied 5,000 years ago, some 1,200 years earlier than originally thought.

As a Mycenaean town, the Pavlopetri site offers potential new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society. Pavlopetri has added importance as it was a maritime settlement from which its inhabitants coordinated local and long distance trade.

Dr Jon Henderson, an underwater archaeologist from the University of Nottingham, tells ScienceDaily: “This site is unique in that we have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed. Equally as a harbor settlement, the study of the archaeological material we have recovered will be extremely important in terms of revealing how maritime trade was conducted and managed in the Bronze Age.”

This summer an organized team of archaeologists conducted a detailed digital underwater survey and study of the structural remains, which until this year were thought to belong to the Mycenaean period ~ around 1600 to 1000 BC. Their investigations revealed another 150 square meters of new buildings as well as ceramics that suggest the site was occupied throughout the Bronze Age ~ from at least 2800 BC to 1100 BC.

Click here for the ScienceDaily article.
Click here for an 8-minute video on the Pavlopetri exploration.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Likely Site of Fabled Labyrinth is Found

Ancient vase depiction of Theseus slaying the Minotaur.

A team of Greek and English scholars believe they have discovered a likely location for the site of the ancient Labyrinth, the legendary maze where the mythical Minotaur supposedly roamed. The elaborate network of underground tunnels is in an old stone quarry near the town of Gortyn, formerly the Roman capital of Crete.

For the last century, the town of Knossos ~ about 20 miles from Gortyn ~ has been touted as the location of the Labyrinth. According to London’s The Indepdendent:

Nicholas Howarth, an Oxford University geographer who led the expedition (to Gortyn), said there was a danger of Gortyn being lost from the story of the Labyrinth because of the overpowering position that Knossos had taken in the legend, a position fostered by Arthur Evans, a wealthy English archaeologist who excavated the site between 1900 and 1935.

"People come not just to see the controversial ruins excavated and reconstructed by Evans, but also to seek a connection to the mythical past of the Age of Heroes. It is a shame that almost all visitors to Knossos have never heard of these other possible 'sites' for the mythical Labyrinth," Mr Howarth said.

Visitors to Knossos are told the site was almost certainly the home of the legendary King Minos, who was said to have constructed the Labyrinth for the Minotaur, a monster resulting from the mating of the king’s wife with a bull.

But the caves at Gortyn ~ known locally as the Labyrinthos Caves ~ are nearly three miles of interlocking tunnels with widened chambers and dead-end rooms, closer to the ancient descriptions of the Labyrinth.

"Going into the Labyrinthos Caves at Gortyn, it's easy to feel that this is a dark and dangerous place where it is easy to get lost,” Howarth says. “Evans' hypothesis that the palace of Knossos is also the Labyrinth must be treated skeptically."

Click here for the article in The Independent.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

'Atlantis' Eruption Provoked Massive Tsunami

Artist's conception of Atlantis ruins.

The volcanic explosion that might have obliterated the legendary isle of Atlantis also triggered a tsunami that traveled hundreds of miles along the Mediterranean coast, scientists now suggest.

The islands that make up the small circular archipelago of Santorini ~ 120 miles southeast of Greece ~ are what remain of what once was a single island, before one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human antiquity occurred between 1630 BC and 1550 BC.

Speculation has abounded as to whether the Santorini eruption may have inspired the legend of Atlantis. The explosion might have given rise to the story of a lost empire by destroying the real-life Minoan civilization that once dominated the Mediterranean.

Now, researchers diving as far as 65 feet deep off the coast of Israel have collected tubes of sediment, or cores, from the seabed. Within the cores, they found evidence of up to nearly 16 inches of sediment deposited roughly about the date of the Santorini eruption.

According to LiveScience:

The dramatic changes in life triggered by the tsunami "might have been part of the fabric of the Atlantis story," said researcher Beverly Goodman, a marine geoarchaeologist at Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences at Eilat, Israel.

Although Atlantis itself "is a myth and legend, it is informative about the experiences of the ancients," Goodman said.
"It may very well be the case that those passing the story on had heard of or witnessed events in which coastal buildings went underwater because of earthquakes; beachfront towns were flooded during tsunamis; islands were created by underwater volcanic activity. There may be that grain of truth that lent legitimacy and a certain reality to the legend of Atlantis."

To better reconstruct the Santorini tsunami, the scientists are planning to analyze deposits closer to the eruption, such as on Crete and in western parts of Turkey.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Familiar Situations Provoked Athens' Downfall

Artist's conception of Athens in its glory.

Ancient Athens imploded during the 4th century BC amid a crippling economic downtown as its army fought unpopular wars on foreign soil and immigrants surged across its borders.

Cambridge University professor Michael Scott in his new study entitled From Democrats to Kings, contends that the collapse of Greek democracy and of Athens in particular offer a stark warning from history which is often overlooked.

"In many ways this was a period of total uncertainty just like our own time," Scott told PhysOrg.com. "There are grounds to consider whether we want to go down the same route that Athens did.”

According to PhysOrg.com:

It was not the loss of its empire and defeat in war against Sparta at the end of the 5th century that heralded the death knell of Athenian democracy ~ as it is traditionally perceived. Athens' democracy in fact recovered from these injuries within years. Instead, Dr. Scott argues that the strains and stresses of the 4th century BC, which our own times seem to echo, proved too much for the Athenian democratic system and ultimately caused it to destroy itself.

"If history can provide a map of where we have been, a mirror to where we are right now and perhaps even a guide to what we should do next, the story of this period is perfectly suited to do that in our times," Dr. Scott said.

"It shows how an earlier generation of people responded to similar challenges and which strategies succeeded. It is a period of history that we would do well to think about a little more right now ~ and we ignore it at our peril."

The name of "democracy," for example, became an excuse to turn on anyone regarded as an enemy of the state. Scott's study also marks an attempt to recognize figures such as Isocrates and Phocion ~ sage political advisers who tried unsuccessfully to steer Athens away from crippling confrontations with other Greek states and Macedonia.

Click here for the PhysOrg.com article.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Deforestation May Have Destroyed Mayan Culture

Mayan mural depicting the god of maize.

Using computer-based simulations and space-based imaging, a NASA-funded project is providing strong evidence that the once-vibrant Mayan culture destroyed itself through extreme deforestation.

"They did it to themselves," says veteran archeologist Tom Sever. According to NASA sources:

A major drought occurred about the time the Maya began to disappear. And at the time of their collapse, the Maya had cut down most of the trees across large swaths of the land to clear fields for growing corn to feed their burgeoning population. They also cut trees for firewood and for making building materials.

"They had to burn 20 trees to heat the limestone for making just 1 square meter of the lime plaster they used to build their tremendous temples, reservoirs, and monuments," explains Sever.

. . . "By interpreting infrared satellite data, we've located hundreds of old and abandoned cities not previously known to exist. The Maya used lime plaster as foundations to build their great cities filled with ornate temples, observatories, and pyramids. Over hundreds of years, the lime seeped into the soil. As a result, the vegetation around the ruins looks distinctive in infrared to this day."

Drought also made it more difficult for the Maya to store enough water to survive the dry season. "The cities tried to keep an 18-month supply of water in their reservoirs," says Sever. "For example, in Tikal there was a system of reservoirs that held millions of gallons of water. Without sufficient rain, the reservoirs ran dry."

For 1200 years, the Maya dominated Central America. At their peak around 900 AD, Maya cities teemed with more than 2,000 people per square mile ~ comparable to modern Los Angeles County. Even in rural areas, the Maya numbered 200 to 400 people per square mile.

Click here for the NASA article.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Scientists Accurately Reproduce Shroud's Image

One of Christendom’s most revered relics ~ the linen shroud that allegedly covered Jesus after his crucifixion ~ was dealt a blow Monday when scientists announced they could reproduce the mysterious image of a wounded man, using techniques available in the 14th century.

The Shroud of Turin is believed by man to bear the figure of a crucified man, with blood seeping out of his wounds in his hands and feet. The shroud’s believers contend the image was impressed into the linen fibers supernaturally at the time of Christ’s resurrection.

The Italian Committee for Checking Claims on the Paranormal said Monday that new evidence points to the shroud as being a medieval forgery. According to the Associated Press:

In 1988, scientists used radiocarbon dating to determine it was made in the 13th or 14th century. But the dispute continued because experts couldn't explain how the faint brown discoloration was produced, imprinting on the cloth a negative image centuries before the invention of photography.

Many still believe that the shroud "has unexplainable characteristics that cannot be reproduced by human means," lead scientist Luigi Garlaschelli said in the statement. "The result obtained clearly indicates that this could be done with the use of inexpensive materials and with a quite simple procedure."

Garlaschelli said in an interview with La Repubblica daily that his team used a linen woven with the same technique as the shroud and artificially aged by heating it in an oven and washing it with water. The cloth was then placed on a student, who wore a mask to reproduce the face, and rubbed with red ochre, a well known pigment at the time.

The shroud is first recorded in history around 1360 in the hands of a French knight ~ a late appearance that is one of the reasons why some scientists are skeptical of its authenticity.

Click here for the Associated Press article.

"Bluehenge" Circle Found Near Stonehenge

Some spotted dolerite monoliths possibly erected first at Bluehenge.

In what is being termed one of the most important prehistoric finds in decades, archaeologists this summer secretly unearthed another prehistoric circle, this one just a mile from Stonehenge.

Researchers are calling it "Bluehenge" after the color of the 27 giant Welsh stones it once incorporated, but which are now missing. According to the London Daily Mail:

Bluehenge was put up 5,000 years ago ~ around the same time as work began on Stonehenge ~ and appears to have been a miniature version of it. The two circles stood together for hundreds of years before Bluehenge was dismantled. Researchers believe its stones were used to enlarge Stonehenge during one of a number of redevelopments.

Professor Tim Darvill, Stonehenge expert at Bournemouth University, said: “This adds to the richness of the story of Stonehenge. We thought we knew it all, but over the last few years we have discovered that something as familiar as Stonehenge is still a challenge to explore and understand. It wouldn't surprise me if there weren't more circles.”

All that remains of the 60-foot-wide Bluehenge are the holes of 27 giant stones set on a ramped mount. Chips of blue stone found in the holes appear to be identical to the blue stones used in Stonehenge.
The four-ton monsters, made of Preseli Spotted Dolerite ~ a chemically altered igneous rock harder than granite ~ were mined in the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire and then rolled, dragged and floated the 200 miles to the site on the banks of the Avon in Wiltshire.

Stonehenge is believed to have been built and rebuilt over 600 years in three main phases, the earliest around 300 BC.

Click here for the Daily Mail article.
Click here for the BBC article.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Hawaiians Possibly Early New Zealanders

Rendition of ancient New Zealand war canoe.

Researchers are saying Polynesian canoe design suggests New Zealand was at least partially settled from Hawaii.

New data suggests a course of Polynesian settlement that started in the far western islands and jumped to the far eastern islands before then working backwards towards the original point of origin. According to the New Zealand Herald:

Archaeologists have said the Lapita peoples ~ probably from China and Southeast Asia ~ who colonized Pacific islands between about 1400 BC and 900 BC became the Polynesians who settled several island groups outwards out of Tonga and Samoa beginning about 500 BC, arriving in the Marquesas about 300 AD, the Hawaiian islands by 800 AD to 900 AD, and finally in New Zealand about 1200.

Stanford University researchers Marcus Feldman and Paul Ehrlich and biologist Deborah Rogers analyzed a 1930s study of traditional canoe design by A.C Haddon and James Hornell.

"This is not a paper about canoes," Ehrlich said. "It's a paper about whether or not there are discernable, explicable patterns in history."

They tracked functional characteristics such as outrigger attachments, construction technique, keel shape as well as painting, designs and figureheads of pre-European canoes from different island groups.

Canoe construction techniques persisted. The Polynesians brought traditional techniques, but changed decorative features as they colonized new island groups.

Click here for the New Zealand Herald article.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Digital Images Recreate Aztec's Templo Mayor

Digital visualization of Templo Mayor prior to destruction.

Templo Mayor plaza viewed from the Temple of the Sun.

Digital images now provide what is considered a reasonable concept of the appearance of a spectacular 16th century Aztec temple in what is today Mexico City.

Antonio Serrato-Combe, professor of architecture at the University of Utah, devoted two decades to digitally recreating ancient structures of the Aztecs. His major accomplishment is the construction of the Templo Mayor Precinct in Tenochtitlan, in what is modern day Mexico City. Destroyed by Hernando Cortes in 1521, the Templo Mayor was the center of Aztec ceremonial life and served as the setting for highly energized rituals.

According to PhysOrg.com:

The question of what the Aztec Templo Mayor Precinct looked like has piqued the curiosity of many, including Serrato-Combe. For more than two decades, he has been trying to solve the mystery on how the capital of the Aztecs looked by using the technology and tools of architecture.

"The Aztec capital was a thriving metropolis planned and built according to principles that not only understood and applied critical environmental issues, but added holistic concepts as well," explains Serrato-Combe. "The Aztecs did not compartmentalize the arts. The final result was a unique combination of architecture, sculpture, painting, costume, wall and sand painting, pottery, masks, amulets, all into one expression. I envy those individuals who had the opportunity to experience those environments."

Combe's research and visualizations are centered on historic and archaeological studies conducted on-site in Mexico City, in conjunction with additional extensive research, very time consuming, due to the complexity and diverse nature of the historic and archeological record.

Click here for the PhysOrg.com article with larger images.

View from top of Huitzilopochtli shrine.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mayan Temples Play 'Raindrop' Music

El Castillo possibly a temple to the Mayan rain god Chaac.

Researchers are speculating that the Mayans constructed some of Mexico’s ancient pyramids to reverberate with peculiar “raindrop music” ~ the sound of raindrops falling into a bucket of water ~ as people climbed them.

For years archaeologists have been familiar with the raindrop sounds made by footsteps on El Castillo, a hollow pyramid on the Yucatán Peninsula. But why the steps should sound like this and whether the effect was intentional remained unclear.

According to New Scientist magazine:

To investigate further, Jorge Cruz of the Professional School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering in Mexico City and Nico Declercq of the Georgia Institute of Technology compared the frequency of sounds made by people walking up El Castillo with those made at the solid, uneven-stepped Moon Pyramid at Teotihuacan in central Mexico.

At each pyramid, they measured the sounds they heard near the base of the pyramid when a student was climbing higher up. Remarkably similar raindrop noises, of similar frequency, were recorded at both pyramids, suggesting that rather than being caused by El Castillo being hollow, the noise is probably caused by sound waves traveling through the steps hitting a corrugated surface, and being diffracted, causing the particular raindrop sound waves to propagate down along the stairs.

El Castillo is widely believed to have been devoted to the feathered serpent god Kukulcan, but Cruz thinks it may also have been a temple to the rain god Chaac. Indeed, a mask of Chaac is found at the top of El Castillo and also in the Moon Pyramid.

"The Mexican pyramids, with some imagination, can be considered musical instruments dating back to the Mayan civilization," says Cruz, although he adds that there is no direct evidence that the Mayans actually played them.

Click here for the New Scientist article.

Anglo-Saxon Treasure is a Mystery

Sample of the huge stash of Anglo-Saxon precious-metal objects.

Terry Herbert’s spectacular find with a metal detector of the largest known stash of 7th century Anglo-Saxon gold and silver has rocked the world of archaeology, and more details are being released with each passing day. The find was disclosed last week.

Herbert had been wielding his metal detector for 18 years and in July was searching land in South Staffordshire belonging to a farmer friend.

"I have this phrase that I say sometimes: 'Spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear,’ but on that day I changed ‘coins’ to ‘gold,’" he recalls. "I don't know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening and directed me to it.”

He found an estimated 1,500 gold and silver pieces, making it the largest discovery of Anglo-Saxon gold yet recovered.

What Is It?

“For the Anglo-Saxon period, this is an awful lot of wealth for one person, or even one people, to have left in one place,” says Dr. Michael Lewis of the British Museum. “At the moment, we can say what it isn't, even if we can't say what it is. It's not associated with a burial, like Sutton Hoo was, for example.

“After that, there are two main possibilities,” he continues. “The first is that this treasure has been purposefully deposited, like an offering to a god. But, from my 21st-Century perspective, I find it bewildering that someone could shove so much metalwork into the ground as an offering. That seems like overkill.

“The other possibility is it's a treasure chest that got lost, or they couldn't come back for it,” Lewis says.

Click here for the BBC article with two videos.
Click here for more BBC photos of the treasure.
Click here for article by Dr. Michael Lewis.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Genetics Dispel Ancient Indian Division

The longstanding belief of an ancient division between India’s Aryan and Dravidian populations ~ essentially a north-south separation ~ has been disproved by genetic researchers from Harvard and India.

"This paper rewrites history. There is no north-south divide,'' Lalji Singh, former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) and a co-author of the study, said at a press conference in Hyderabad on Thursday.

According to the Times of India:

Senior CCMB scientist Kumarasamy Thangarajan said there was no truth to the Aryan-Dravidian theory as they came hundreds or thousands of years after the ancestral north and south Indians had settled in India.

The study analysed 500,000 genetic markers across the genomes of 132 individuals from 25 diverse groups from 13 states. All the individuals were from six-language families and traditionally "upper'' and "lower'' castes and tribal groups. "The genetics proves that castes grew directly out of tribe-like organizations during the formation of the Indian society,'' the study said. Thangarajan noted that it was impossible to distinguish between castes and tribes since their genetics proved they were not systematically different.

“. . .The initial settlement took place 65,000 years ago in the Andamans and in ancient south India around the same time, which led to population growth in this part,'' said Thangarajan. "At a later stage, 40,000 years ago, the ancient north Indians emerged which in turn led to rise in numbers here. But at some point of time, the ancient north and the ancient south mixed, giving birth to a different set of population. And that is the population which exists now and there is a genetic relationship between the population within India.''

The study reveals that the present-day Indian population is a mix of ancient north and south, bearing the genomic contributions from two distinct ancestral populations ~ the Ancestral North Indian (ANI) and the Ancestral South Indian (ASI).

Click here for the Times of India article.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Research Shows More Women Cave Artists

Painting from Pech-Merle in France showing several hand prints.

Much more Stone Age cave art seems to be the creation of women artists than previously thought, according to new research.

An American archaeologist has measured outlined handprints found on cave walls in France and Spain ~ some dating back 28,000 years ~ and has shown that the relative lengths of fingers fit the proportions of female hands better than those of males.

“I had access to lots of people of European descent who were willing to let me scan their hands as reference data,” says Dean Snow, of Pennsylvania State University.

According to the London Times:

By matching their hand profiles against photographs of paint-outlined hands from the caves of El Castillo and Gargas, in northern Spain, and Pech-Merle in the Dordogne region of France, “even a superficial examination of published photos suggested to me that there were lots of female hands there."

The handprints were created by placing the palm, or possibly the back, of the hand against the cave wall, taking a mouthful of powdered pigment ~ usually red ochre ~ and blowing it, as Michel Lorblanchet showed many years ago. Sometimes a finger appears to be missing. Such absences have been attributed to mutilation, but bending the finger back while spraying the hand with the pigment powder would give the same effect.

Snow believes that many of these hand prints are those of women. In two examples from Castillo, about 28,000 years old, “The very long ring finger on one example is a dead giveaway for male hands,” he said. “The other has a long index finger and a short little finger — thus very feminine.”

Click here for the London Times article.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stone Mug Bears Mysterious Script

The stone mug with its inexplicable carvings.

Ten lines of script carved into a 2,000-year-old stone mug found on Mount Zion are mystifying archaeologists, who believe the inscription may provide details about ancient Jewish life.

"These were common stone mugs that appear in all Jewish households" of the time, lead excavator Shimon Gibson of the University of North Carolina told National Geographic. "But this is the first time an inscription has been found on a stone vessel."

According to National Geographic:

Working on historic Mount Zion ~ site of King David's tomb and the Last Supper ~ the archaeologists found the cup near a ritual pool this summer. The dig site is in what had been an elite residential area near the palace of King Herod the Great, who ruled Israel shortly before the birth of Jesus.

From the objects that surrounded it, Gibson determined that the cup dated from some time between 37 B.C. and A.D. 70, when the Romans nearly destroyed Jerusalem after a Jewish revolt.

Such stone mugs were popular among Jews at the time because of the culture's purity rules. According to tradition, a pottery cup that had been contaminated by contact with a forbidden food had to be broken and discarded, according to National Geographic.

Click here for the National Geographic article.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ancient Origins Found for Red Riding Hood

Little Red Riding Hood by Fleury Francois Richard (1777-1852)

It has long been known that popular fairy tales frequently had ancient origins, but new research shows Little Red Riding Hood having roots going back at least 2,600 years.

Using research techniques more commonly associated with biologists ~ called a taxonomic tree of life ~ anthropologists are able to explore these stories' origins in various cultures through various time periods. For example, Dr. Jamie Tehrani, a cultural anthropologist at Durham University, has studied 35 versions of Little Red Riding Hood from around the world. According to the London Telegraph:

Whilst the European version tells the story of a little girl who is tricked by a wolf masquerading as her grandmother, in the Chinese version a tiger replaces the wolf. In Iran, where it would be considered odd for a young girl to roam alone, the story features a little boy.

. . . He said: “Over time these folk tales have been subtly changed and have evolved just like a biological organism. Because many of them were not written down until much later, they have been misremembered or reinvented through hundreds of generations. By looking at how these folk tales have spread and changed it tells us something about human psychology and what sort of things we find memorable.

“The oldest tale we found was an Aesopic fable that dated from about the sixth century BC, so the last common ancestor of all these tales certainly predated this. We are looking at a very ancient tale that evolved over time.”

Tehrani has identified 70 variables in plot and characters between different versions of Little Red Riding Hood. The original ancestor is thought to be similar to another tale, The Wolf and the Kids, in which a wolf pretends to be a nanny goat to gain entry to a house full of young goats.

Click here for the Telegraph.com article.